The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier (Bridei Chronicles: Book 1)

When Bridei arrives at Pitnochie as a four-year-old, Juliet Marillier lets the reader see the unsure thoughts of the druid Broichan who will mentor and educate him. We get to wonder if this little child will be able to handle all that Broichan has planned for him. The mystery piles on from there.

Marillier reveals little pieces of the puzzle as Bridei takes lessons in magic, in history, in battle, in strategy, etc. Marillier lets Bridei—and thus the reader—learn some of his destiny while withholding other tidbits, as the young boy finds an orphaned child on Broichan’s doorstep one cold mid-winters night. He names the fey-girl that he finds Tuala, meaning “princess,” and vows to take care of her. This doesn’t set well with Broichan, who sees the “princess” as a threat to the grand plans he and his council of five have for the little lad.

The story goes on from there, but I’m not sure that I want to give away more plot details. I will admit that it took a long time in the telling. Marillier takes great care in her world-building and spends time on the details she doesn’t want her readers to miss. I enjoyed it. I love medieval history and conjecture about the Picts and the Celts and the movements that took place before Anglo-Saxon England, so to find a fiction story that incorporates that lore intelligently thrilled me. I thank Marillier for her excellent research and logical inferences for a fantastic story. Do I wish it could have moved at a faster pace? Well, maybe not. The pace gave me time to absorb the weight of information about the various characters who played important roles in Bridei’s inevitable fight for his country.

Something else that I deeply appreciated about Marillier’s story was the lack of gratuitous “bedroom scenes.” Too many fantasy stories these days include scenes of adultery, premarital sex, or just bed-chamber romp after bed-chamber romp when such acts serve to make the hero and/or heroine appear hormonally out-of-control. In Marillier’s story, Bridei is a druid-trained warrior in complete control of his emotions and actions who stops warriors who would have taken part in the rape of prisoners; he openly humiliates them for what they were about to do.

What a pleasure it was to see two characters fall in love and recognize desire without debasing one another or showing a complete lack of physical restraint. Kudos to Marillier for creating that kind of tension without an R rating. Yet the sweet romance between two main characters in Marillier’s story is only one plot that propels the reader through this novel. For fantasy enthusiasts looking for a clever, multi-layered, well-written story that lets you fall in love with the characters, lets you respect the characters, and gives you time to enjoy the characters and root for their successes, I can recommend The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier.

9/10 A clever, multi-layered, well-written story that lets you fall in love with the characters.

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